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Photo credit: Kyrani Kanavaros

Kurt Yaeger Talks His Different Roles on All Four ‘NCIS’ Shows

Kurt Yaeger is experiencing the kind of momentum that actors dream of. Between a Guy Pearce-led feature he recently shot in Ireland, this year’s upcoming release of the movie he did with Elizabeth Banks and Zach Galifianakis, and his appearance on the Apple TV+ series Best Foot Forward, the actor seems to be working non-stop. But when he virtually sat down with Casting Networks, it was his upcoming performance on NCIS: Hawai’i that was on the table. Yaeger has already appeared in NCIS and both its Los Angeles and New Orleans spin-offs, playing different characters each time. Now, he’s completing the quadfecta with a new role on Hawai’i. Ahead of his episode airing, the actor shared a window into such an accomplishment — along with his take on how CBS is doing with disability representation — and you can also check out the video version of our interview below.

Kurt, thank you so much for being with us, and it is such a feat you have accomplished of being in all four iterations of NCIS.

Really quickly — [pulls prosthetic leg into frame] — you should probably use “foot” not “feat.” [Laughs] I’m just messing with you. This is going to be a tough interview — I’m sorry.

[Laughs] I love it. And can you give us a little overview of your characters on the first three iterations of NCIS that you’ve been on so far ahead of this most recent one?

In NCIS — the first one — I played Freddie Lin, a guy who was injured overseas. I came parachuting into the scene, and it looks so real because I was dropped in on a 60-foot crane. That was really fun. Then for NCIS: LA, I was two characters [over five episodes]. I played Sullivan and Ferris. First, I was a good guy who was in a rehab center, ingratiating myself to the character Kensi. It made a little bit of an internet wave since Kensi and Deeks were really becoming an item, but they were having struggles. And then I pop up. I’m like, “Well, hello [Kensi], how are you doing? Would you like to have some beer and hang out afterwards?” And there were a lot of euphemisms about big trucks and big things. [Laughs] So, I had a really good arc.

NCIS: New Orleans was awesome because it had the second-highest amount of disabled people in a singular episode of television in television history. And I was the lead guy of that particular episode. It was written by Katherine Beattie, and I got to work with Daryl Chill Mitchell, who’s amazing and a wheelchair user who was injured in a motorcycle accident similar to mine. I also got to work with LeVar Burton, who directed that episode. And now getting to NCIS: Hawai’i season two — Chris Silber and Jan Nash are our showrunners, and I worked with some amazing people. And LeVar Burton is directing me again in this episode.

And you’ve said in the past that CBS is really doing disability representation right. Can you expand on that?

It’s a long process, right? We’ve still got a long way to go, but they’re really pushing [for it]. Claudia Lyon, for instance — she’s crushing it overseeing the [CBS] casting department by showing that people with disabilities can play non-disabled characters. In NCIS: Hawai’i, I’m a non-disabled character — the role has nothing to do with a prosthetic leg. And in NCIS: New Orleans, I played a disabled character, but it wasn’t a story about his disability. NCIS: LA was using the disability of the character so he could kind of sneak his way in [for story purposes]. And then before that, the [NCIS] character was all about his disability. So, you can see the progression in storytelling methodology to where disability is becoming normalized.

Characters are just now getting closer to who I am. I lost my leg in a motorcycle accident and then [did rehab and] relearned how to do backflips on bikes. And so [at CBS], they’re pushing for people with disabilities to be in all roles [including athletic ones]. I’ve met with the CBS president, Amy [Reisenbach], the studio executives and network executives, all of whom were lovely. They’ve all taken time to talk to me and talk to different organizations, trying to figure out where the problems are and how they can be an [active] ally — not just in tone but also in word and deed. They’re actively trying to incorporate the value of disabilities and disabled stories in a non-charity way. It doesn’t have to be [virtue-signaling] like, “We’re doing good.” Rather, they can be like, “That’s an interesting way to tell this story.” People with disabilities have a very unique experience. For example, what you learn from either being born with a disability or becoming disabled. What’s the value that comes from it? And I think [exploring] that is what CBS is driving at right now. Pretty cool — you know?

So cool! And now, I would love to hear before we wrap how you think your work across this series and its different iterations has impacted your career so far.

From the first show — NCIS — I met some really cool people, including Jason Kennedy, who’s amazing. And I think how it’s affected my career is that I got to meet more people and work with more people. They see that you can show up and do well. Working with repeated directors and repeated showrunners and repeated writers tells other filmmakers that I’m a guy you can rely on who does a great job. Then that propagates the next level of things. Now, maybe there is room to figure out storylines for me inside of a larger tentpole show as a [series] regular. Maybe that’s the next stage [in my career]. But you know, they say it takes you 10 to 15 years to become an overnight success. And they ain’t lying!

Yaeger’s episode of NCIS: Hawai’i airs April 10 on CBS, and those interested in keeping up with the actor’s career journey can find him on Instagram, where he frequently posts about work.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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